Detroit mayor could talk blight in State of City

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Hours before Detroit's new mayor was set to deliver his State of the City address, Krystal Porter considered the three vacant houses on her block.

"One just got burned down the other day. One has been vacant over three years," said Porter, a 28-year-old certified paralegal. "Is he going to tear them down or is he going to fix them? Does he have a blueprint?"

Mayor Mike Duggan's power is restricted while Detroit remains under state oversight, but blight removal and demolition of what could be 70,000 or more vacant houses and other buildings are under his control. Both issues are expected to be part of the speech he delivers Wednesday night at City Hall.

The annual address will be the city's first under state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who is steering Detroit through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The city's bankruptcy petition was filed in July and approved by a judge in December.

Under a deal with Orr, Duggan has charge over financial matters relating to day-to-day functions of city government. But most of the power once exclusive to the mayor's office now resides with Orr, who has complete control over all city finances, how much is spent and what the money is spent on.

Last week, Orr filed his plan of adjustment, a blueprint for Detroit's restructuring and debt removal, in federal court. The plan calls for the city to spend $1.5 billion over 10 years to remove blighted properties, upgrade public-safety equipment and technology and make other improvements.

Unlike his predecessors, Duggan will take on the monumental task of demolition with millions of dollars in focused support from the federal government and millions more set aside from bills the city won't be paying to creditors during its historic bankruptcy.

About $500 million of the $1.5 billion in Orr's plan would be used to knock down up to 450 decaying, abandoned properties each week. The U.S. government also announced in September that it would direct more than $100 million in grants to help Detroit tear down vacant buildings and spur job growth.

Duggan's office declined to comment on what would be in his address.

Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law school professor, said Duggan should tell Detroit residents what's next after the bankruptcy and after dealing with the short-term issues.

"Getting street lights turned on is not an achievement; it is a prerequisite to living," Henning said. "And tearing down blighted buildings does not make the city better. It only keeps it from getting worse."

Orr has said Detroit should exit bankruptcy this year. His 18-month contract ends in the fall and control could return to elected officials, although a transition board could be put in place when the emergency manager leaves.

Former Detroit Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel, who is founder of a government relations advocacy firm and will attend the State of the City event, said she expects Duggan to talk about what' he's doing to fix how the city delivers basic services, such as snow and trash removal.

"This is a system that is beyond broken, that has to be rebuilt," Cockrel said. "And he is the right person to do it. I think he's more of the 'roll up your sleeves and get to work.' He's not looking for at-a-boys. He's looking to get the job done."

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